Though he's still in the midst of fighting for a roster spot at cornerback, Bills seventh-round pick Ellis Lankster may have an opportunity to showcase some of his other skills. The West Virginia product may get the chance to return punts in Saturday's game at Pittsburgh.
Over the past couple of weeks Lankster has been given more and more reps in practice catching punts fired out of the JUGS machine. And Lankster is anything but new to the return game.
He returned kicks and punts for two years at Jones County (MS) Junior College where he was a JUCO All-American as a return man.
"Coach and I have talked about him," said special teams coordinator Bobby April. "He wasn't ready to do it in the last game. We'll see how he does ramping up to this week's game. We'll see if we can give him the opportunity to perform."
Lankster initially impressed head coach Dick Jauron with the ball in his hands after his two interceptions against Chicago in the preseason game on Aug. 15. He returned both takeaways to the Bears four-yard line leading to a pair of touchdowns. His second he brought back 30 yards.
"He has skills and you can see some of his skills," said Jauron. "I thought that he showed his athletic ability in the runs. I thought the returns were pretty good."
April wouldn't mind seeing Lankster get some return work in knowing he was the featured return man at West Virginia his senior year, where he average 8.6 yards per punt return and 25 yards on kick returns.
"Coach will have to make that decision, but he's absolutely a consideration," said special teams coordinator Bobby April. "Does he have the physical skills to do it? Heck yeah."
Lankster has enjoyed just watching the likes of Roscoe Parrish, Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee return punts and kicks in practice.
"Roscoe I just love to see Roscoe run," he said. "When he gets the ball he just does things I didn't think anybody could really do. He can spin, run and cut. Terrence is so shifty and once he sees the hole he just hits it and explodes through. Leodis is just pure speed. If you give him a lane nobody is going to catch him."
Lankster likens his return game to that of McGee.
"Once I see (the hole) I hit it and that's it," said Lankster. "In high school my freshman year I played running back and slot receiver so I learned at an early age how to run to daylight."
The seventh-round pick has fared well at cornerback making many plays on the ball in the training camp practices. If he can prove to be a competent reserve on returns, it could be the extra edge he needs to earn a roster spot.
"Coach knows what he can do and likes him as a corner," said April of Jauron. "And I like him as a special teamer. He's a good player. If we don't get him in the game, we won't know what he can and cannot do."
So the odds are good that Lankster will see time in the return game Saturday night at Pittsburgh, most likely in the second half. It has the defensive back eager for the opportunity even if he might be a little jittery waiting on the ball.
"It will be my first return in the NFL, so I'm going to be a little nervous," said Lankster. "But I feel great about it. I've got an opportunity to make some more plays so I'm going to take advantage of it."